What is going on in New York and many of the major cities of the country (and some of the smaller ones, too) is, I believe, momentous. I hope so, at least.
Labor and Corporations: A (Ludicrously) Brief Synopsis
As a student of history (specifically, 20th century history), I am worried by the recent trend undermining the hard fought progress of labor and society. Perhaps most worrying is the way that much of the middle class has been tricked (I do not use that word lightly) into believing that Unions and the Labor Movement are actually detrimental to their well-being. While I will admit unions have their share of problems and shortcomings, let us not forget what we as a society have gained because of them:
40 hour work weeks
Child labor laws
Workplace safety regulations
These are a few of the major wins, and really only a small portion.
What does this have to do with Occupy Wall Street? Well, in the early 20th Century, corporations and Big Business frequently fought back against unions and laborers with brute force (often with government backing). They violently attacked strikers which resulted in many deaths, on both sides.
*I should say here that I know the labor forces were not always blameless and that in various disputes, both sides were instigators. Very often, though, this was a matter of unarmed (or only lightly armed) strikers versus heavily armed strikebreakers and police forces.*
Our history is filled with bloodshed, all of it lost in order for us to get to the place we are now, where basic and common sense labor laws and rights are being taken for granted by a generation of people who never had to die to earn a safe place to work. When corporations have too much unchecked power, when they have all the rights of people without the responsibilities and consequences that real people have to face, then something must be done.
Reactions to Occupy Wall Street
There is a hypocritical (and disingenuous) reaction by the Conservative talking heads attempting to vilify the protestors. They glorified the Tea Party protests, but marginalize the current protest. This is perhaps best exemplified by Ann Coulter. Does she represent every Conservative? No. But she does sell a whole hell of a lot of books, which is frightening. Do I believe she actually means what she says? No. I think she says extreme things in order to sell those books. Unfortunately, there are people who take her words and live by them.
*And here again, I’ll interrupt to say that there were almost certainly leftists who called the Tea Party members Nazis for their beliefs. I disagree with pretty much all of the Tea Party sentiments and I don’t find their arguments to be particularly persuasive when most of them would proudly quote a loon such as Glenn Beck. But that doesn’t mean I think their views are evil or even destructive, and I certainly don’t think their anger should be ignored.*
When “the left” tries to “take down” corporations, they are Nazis. When the Tea Party tries to take down the government, they are patriots. This is baffling to me, and it illustrates my concern. A certain sector of the nation has been made to believe that the success of corporations is more important and beneficial than the success of our government. In an age when Conservative talking heads are openly wishing for our president’s failure, I find the devotion to corporations in the name of Capitalism rather bizarre. Capitalism was never once mentioned in the constitution, yet you would think it was the foundation of our country to hear the talking points of the those disparaging the Wall Street Protestors.
I’m not saying we should get rid of corporations. Capitalism, in my book, is a necessary… well, not quite evil. A necessary reality. Like bowel movements. It’d be nice if we could do without them, but we can’t, so we have toilets. Every once in awhile, we need to flush.
I’m not a Socialist, I’m a Communist. If you don’t know the difference, you should stop holding up protest signs.
I don’t claim to agree with every stance of Occupy Wall Street and I’m not going to be marching down any streets, but I like that they exist and I appreciate what they are trying to accomplish. I believe their efforts are as American as Apple Pie and Jack Kerouac.
You don’t have to agree with them. You can think they are idiots and make fun of their patchouli smell. I’m okay with that. But whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, Tea Partier or Anarchist, you should respect their right to speak. After all, if corporations have the right to free speech, why shouldn’t people?
*Here I include the official declaration of Occupy Wall Street. Hate or love them, at least you should know what they are actually saying:*
Declaration of the Occupation of New York City
As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies.
As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.
They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage.
They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give Executives exorbitant bonuses.
They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.
They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.
They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless nonhuman animals, and actively hide these practices.
They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions.
They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is itself a human right.
They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut workers’ healthcare and pay.
They have influenced the courts to achieve the same rights as people, with none of the culpability or responsibility.
They have spent millions of dollars on legal teams that look for ways to get them out of contracts in regards to health insurance.
They have sold our privacy as a commodity.
They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press.
They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products endangering lives in pursuit of profit.
They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce.
They have donated large sums of money to politicians supposed to be regulating them.
They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil.
They continue to block generic forms of medicine that could save people’s lives in order to protect investments that have already turned a substantive profit.
They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping, and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit.
They purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media.
They have accepted private contracts to murder prisoners even when presented with serious doubts about their guilt.
They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad.
They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.
They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts. *
To the people of the world,
We, the New York City General Assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge you to assert your power.
Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone.
To all communities that take action and form groups in the spirit of direct democracy, we offer support, documentation, and all of the resources at our disposal.
Join us and make your voices heard!
*These grievances are not all-inclusive.
One thought on “The Occupation of Wall Street”
One of the most glaring problems with the supporters of Occupy Wall Street and its copycat successors is that they suffer from a woefully inadequate understanding of the capitalist social formation — its dynamics, its (spatial) globality, its (temporal) modernity. They equate anti-capitalism with simple anti-Americanism, and ignore the international basis of the capitalist world economy. To some extent, they have even reified its spatial metonym in the NYSE on Wall Street. Capitalism is an inherently global phenomenon; it does not admit of localization to any single nation, city, or financial district.
Moreover, many of the more moderate protestors hold on to the erroneous belief that capitalism can be “controlled” or “corrected” through Keynesian-administrative measures: steeper taxes on the rich, more bureaucratic regulation and oversight of business practices, broader government social programs (welfare, Social Security), and projects of rebuilding infrastructure to create jobs. Moderate “progressives” dream of a return to the Clinton boom years, or better yet, a Rooseveltian new “New Deal.” All this amounts to petty reformism, which only serves to perpetuate the global capitalist order rather than to overcome it. They fail to see the same thing that the libertarians in the Tea Party are blind to: laissez-faire economics is not essential to capitalism. State-interventionist capitalism is just as capitalist as free-market capitalism.
Nevertheless, though Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy [insert location here] in general still contains many problematic aspects, it nevertheless presents an opportunity for the Left to engage with some of the nascent anti-capitalist sentiment taking shape there. So far it has been successful in enlisting the support of a number of leftish celebrities, prominent unions, and young activists, and has received a lot of media coverage. Hopefully, the demonstrations will lead to a general radicalization of the participants’ politics, and a commitment to the longer-term project of social emancipation.
To this end, I have written up a rather pointed Marxist analysis of the OWS movement so far that you might find interesting:
“Reflections on Occupy Wall Street: What It Represents, Its Prospects, and Its Deficiencies”
THE LEFT IS DEAD! LONG LIVE THE LEFT!
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